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A little less conversation, a little more action

The Cranfield University 2017 National Manufacturing Debate covered leadership challenges as well as skills shortages and the future investment in the skills required for British industry to prosper.

Frighteningly, Dr Rajkumar Roy highlighted that management skills across the SME sector have not really changed over the last 10 years and that all the attempts to address this have failed. Not only does the sector need to think about how to address these challenges, there is an ongoing growing gap in the new skills required over the next 10-20 years, which seems to only be getting worse. Allan Cook CBE, Chairman of Atkins, said that we need to give students a reason to become Chartered Engineers - mirroring what I had said in my recent blog - and that we need to find a way to connect with SME leaders.  

It was mentioned that even if all the students in the system chose STEM subjects over the next few years, there would still be a significant skills gap. The challenge is much bigger than new people joining the work force. Neil Carberry of the CBI highlighted it is about the reskilling and retraining of the existing workforce, not just influencing students in schools. In my recent survey on what poses a greater risk to UK manufacturing and engineering businesses, an astonishing 94% of my network believe that an ageing workforce was a bigger threat than Brexit.  

There was concern around the use of the apprenticeship levy and the fact it should only be used in the areas where there are skills gaps. Dr Rajkumar Roy discussed the need for universities to be more involved with their local communities and get better at working with industry, government and schools. It was suggested that the whole process should be institutionalised.

Below are two slides from Dr Rajkumar Roy's presentation:


Nothing new so far, right? We have heard this before. 

There is certainly a great degree of self-awareness about the UK’s strengths and weaknesses. It was recognised that the UK is great at innovation and has a world class R&D capability, but it seems to lack the ability to commercialise and grow these great innovations into profitable sizeable businesses. 

I started providing interim management services to the manufacturing and engineering sectors back in 2012 and I have witnessed many discussions about the skills shortage and other challenges that UK industry is facing. What I haven’t heard is a discussion around  what the industry and government are doing to rectify this issue.

I was fascinated to finally hear a great example of a business taking matters in to their own hands and taking a slightly different approach to their skills shortages.

Mary Brady, VP and General Manager of Coty Manufacturing, presented some of the activities they are doing to help increase the flow of talent into her business.

Mary highlighted that there are 180,000 UCAS students that do not get their grades, and that this is a huge missed opportunity of potential talent. Mary and her team have purposefully sought out Gap Year students and offered them internships for the last four years. Students have benefited from working with experienced engineers, who have in turn been introduced to the many new technologies that younger people are exposed to. Reverse mentoring has become commonplace within Coty UK and has benefited all involved. Not only have the operational KPI’s improved within their manufacturing facility, but so has the capability of the existing work force, particularly around new technologies. In my opinion these are the types of stories we need to be shouting about. 

A gentleman who runs an industrial business in the West Midlands said he has never had skills issues because he hires adults and invests the time in retraining them, thus building a loyal workforce with the skills his business requires. 

I could continue listing the many discussions that took place throughout the course of the day, but I fear I will bore you with what you already know.

Instead I want to ask you if you have witnessed or worked in any businesses that are particularly good at building talent pipelines for the future. I feel we have far more to gain if we can share the success stories as the ones mentioned above. Please share your comments below.  


Claire Lauder is the Director of Manufacturing & Engineering

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